July 31, 2008
Grief And Outrage In Egypt
Relatives in 2006, anxiously waiting for updates on their relatives after the ferry sank. (AP photo)
--By CNN's Octavia Nasr
A mother screams at the top of her lungs, accusing the Egyptian judicial system of corruption.
She's joined by other families who came to an Egyptian court expecting a conviction and a maximum sentence. Instead, they witnessed an acquittal of five men they believe are responsible for their loved ones' deaths.
Arab media were on hand to report the outrage and provide context.
In 2006 a ferry carrying some fourteen hundred people--mostly pilgrims and workers--from Saudi Arabia to Egypt sank in the Red Sea, resulting in the death of more than a thousand people.
The Dubai-based Al-Arabiya tracked the last hours of the ferry and reported the following about the investigation:
1. The recovered data recorder proved that the ferry's owner knew there had been a fire on board but gave orders to continue on instead of returning to port as the captain had requested.
2. The ferry did not have functional life boats or life preservers.
3. Another boat passing in the area received a distressed signal from the sinking ferry but did not stop or try to help.
Two years after the tragedy, at the Egyptian court, the boat owner -- a parliament member who left Egypt shortly after the ferry sank and has not returned since -- is cleared of any wrongdoing along with four others. Only the captain of the boat who did not stop to help was sentenced to six months in jail.
On her FaceBook page, Egyptian columnist Mona El-Tahawi expressed shock immediately after the verdict.
"Can't believe the ferry owner and his son were acquitted." She exclaimed. "Are Egyptian lives worth nothing?" She asked.
In the Lebanese Newspaper Al Akhbar, Wael Abdel Fattah writes under the headline "Protecting Corruption in Egypt"
"The victims' cry for help fell on deaf ears... But it reinforced the belief that Corruption is a mass murderer."
An opinion echoed on Arab networks, but refuted by those sympathetic to the Egyptian court. One of them told Al-Arabiya, "These accusations are nonsense. The judgment reflects the truth of what happened. The law in Egypt is independent and fair."
On Al-Jazeera, reporter Omar al-Kahki offered an emotional conclusion to his report. He said, "Those who died may have found eternal peace but their families will continue to endure pain and suffering."
While Egypt's prosecutor general filed an appeal, the anti-government newspaper Egypt Daily News published a 'Wanted' poster for the ferry's owner signaling this is certainly not the end.
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